Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My kind of birthday cake

When you are little (or really old), you don't have a choice.  It's a sheet cake with buttercream frosting, swirly decorations, and writing on it.

If you are a fortunate child, the cake comes from somewhere yummy, like The Baker or Hansen's, or even Costco, or if you are especially fortunate, your aunt makes you a Yo Baby Cake* by hand.

If you are an unfortunate child, you might get something like this:

Did I mention that CakeWrecks is potentially the funniest site on the web?


As you get older (like 5), you start to have an opinion about your birthday cake:

"Can it be an ice cream cake?"

"Or cupcakes?"

"Or a coffee cake?"

"How about if we don't have cake at all?"

Well...sure. It is your birthday**!

Then, as you get even older (like 40-something***), you not only have an opinion, you have A Birthday Cake.  The cake that you have every year.  The one that that someone makes for you or buys for you or orders especially for you. Because that's the cake you like, and it wouldn't be your birthday without it.  The "Don't even think about messing around and trying any of that fancy stuff you saw in Bon Appetit magazine, Missy. Not on my birthday you don't!" cake.

For my husband, it's carrot cake.
For my dad, it's lemon cake.
For me, it'd be this cake.

Unfortunately, I'm rarely in charge of my own birthday cake.
Fortunately, there are 364 other days in the year.
Happy Not-Birthday to me!****

What's your Birthday Cake?

Decadent Chocolate Almond Torte
As soon as I found this recipe in my mom's copy of Sunset Magazine Favorite Recipes II when I was in high school, I was done searching.  I've rarely made any other chocolate cake in all the years since, and it immediately became My Birthday Cake.  The flavor of this torte is a divine mix of deep, dark chocolate, a hit of almond, and a back note of mocha.  The texture is dense and smooth, almost like a flourless chocolate cake, and the chocolate glaze is decadent to the nth degree.  It's also remarkably easy, and made me feel, as a teenager, like a gourmet chef every time I made it.

For the cake:
Unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. espresso powder or instant coffee
2 Tbs. hot water
4 squares (1 oz. each) semi-sweet baker's chocolate, melted until smooth
3 eggs, separated
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. (about 2 oz.) almond paste, grated or crumbled
1/2 c. flour

For the glaze:
4 squares (1 oz. each) bakers semi-sweet chocolate
1 Tbs. butter

Butter an 8-inch round cake pan, and lightly dust with the unsweetened cocoa.  You can already tell this is gonna be good, right?  Preheat oven to 350, and set the pan aside.

Dissolve the coffee in the hot water, and stir that together with the melted chocolate in a small bowl until very smooth.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, and set that aside, too.  In a larger bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together until creamy, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the egg yolks, the grated almond paste, the chocolate-coffee mixture, and finally the flour.  

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the egg whites, about a third at time, just until blended.   Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is lightly browned and nubby.  Do not overbake!  Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto your serving plate and allow to cool completely.

To make the glaze, melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring as it melts so the mixture is smooth and silky.   If you use a microwave to do this like I do, zap the chocolate by itself at 50% power for a minute at a time, checking and stirring after each minute.

Once it begins to soften, add the butter and zap together for the last minute or so.  Stir vigorously to combine at the end.  Cool for just a few minutes, then spread the warm glaze over the top and sides of the cooled cake, smoothing as you go.

Allow the glaze to set and harden, either for a few hours at room temperature, or in the fridge for 30-45 minutes.  Serve the cake at room temperature, with slightly sweetened whipped cream if you like!

Garnished with a few chocolate covered coffee beans. Mmm!

Click to Print this recipe!  

* Yellow cake with creamy chocolate (or for my daughter, vanilla) frosting, sprinkles, and animal crackers dancing around the cake.  Jelly beans are optional, but add a nice touch.
**  With the exception of the CakeWreck, these are actual birthday "cakes" we've had.
*** But a very young-looking 40-something.
**** There was a specific someone having a birthday last week. Unlike when my kids were involved, I didn't give her an option to let me know what her Birthday Cake was.  I just went ahead and made this.  Fortunately, she loved it.


  1. Cakes look Yummy!
    Happy Not-Birthday to you!
    Young-looking 40-something!

  2. we have had birthday breakfast cakes since Paige was 4. First thing in the morning, before school, you get the cake of your choice,the kitchen is decorated in assorted birthday attire, your favorite candy and cake. 16 years later and we are still doing it! We love all kinds of cake but Ralphs has really been a strong contender!

  3. We do birthdays in the morning, too! Ever since my son was about 3, and couldn't wait for the celebration to start. It's the best. And I agree, Ralph's does make excellent birthday cakes!